The line forms around the block

Posted by Iannucci | 11/13/2008 | 14 comments »
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Chalk one up for the word butchers. Our buddy Will at is it May yet? is so smart that not only can be be a big brain for NASA by day, but by night he can do the work of a serious journalist. Will has been spending this evening on fun stuff like the affidavit filed on behalf of Helio Castroneves asking for an extension from his March court date.

It seems everyone's favorite fence climber worries about the timing of a verdict in such a case. It also seems his boss is more than a bit worried as well. According to Will, the affidavit reads:

[I]f the trial proceeds as scheduled on March 2, Penske Racing will be forced, in all likelihood, to change drivers now to avoid the risk that Mr. Castroneves will be unavailable for the entirety of the 2009 Series.

(MORE from is it May yet?)
Now normally you'd think a two-time winner of the 500 and one of the two most recognizable faces in the IRL would be secure in his job, but the reality is it's a buyers market for teams looking for a quality driver. As Robin recently noted, the current lack of sponsorship available to race teams has left proven drivers like Oriol Servia, Justin Wilson, Will Power and Ryan Hunter-Reay are all pounding the pavement in search of a ride.

As an aside, does anyone know why N/H/L would keep Graham Rahal over Justin Wilson? No offense to the youngster, but he was clearly the lesser of the two drivers this year. Is this an "upside potential" deal or what?


  1. Ryan // November 13, 2008 8:55 PM  

    "As an aside, does anyone know why N/H/L would keep Graham Rahal over Justin Wilson? No offense to the youngster, but he was clearly the lesser of the two drivers this year. Is this an "upside potential" deal or what?"

    That's simple. Rahal is young, American, and is capable of growing a fan base. How many Justin Wilson T-shirts do you see at a racetrack?

  2. ganassiboy // November 13, 2008 9:06 PM  

    Marty Roth might be willing to fill the slot ....

  3. pressdog // November 14, 2008 5:18 AM  

    Rahal is a Rahal. Wilson clearly is the better driver right now, but he doesn't have The Last Name.

  4. // November 14, 2008 9:59 AM  

    I think part of it is as simple as Rahal is under contract and Wilson isn't. Also, I think that, while sponsorship issues are clearly an issue, the uncertainty of Bourdais is also involved.

    Also, I've seen exactly twice as many Rahal t-shirts at races than I have Wilson t-shirts. To be fair, that's two Rahal t-shirts (the two Son of 'Stache shirts owned by myself and my cousin) and one Wilson shirt, worn by a brother of a reader in turn 3.

  5. Iannucci // November 14, 2008 10:11 AM  

    For whatever reason I though both drivers had contracts that had expired this year. If that's incorrect then this is a non-issue.

    My point was that Wilson got that job as the best available driver in the CCWS when Bourdais left, so he's obviously proven himself. But if discard that record and look only at the 2008 season then it's clear Wilson drove a lot better (7 top 10s vs 4 for Rahal) but also tore up a lot less equipment. Stuff costs money.

    I suppose if Rahal is bringing cash that would offset this argument, but from a pragmatic point of view there's no way I would take him at this stage of his career over Wilson. Of course, your mileage may vary.

  6. The SpeedGeek // November 14, 2008 12:21 PM  

    I persoanlly think that Rahal/Wilson is the most intriguing teammate matchup in the paddock. I understand why N/H/L has Graham locked up (his name's Rahal, he's already a race-winner and he's only one year out of high school), but I just think it's crazy that they haven't been able to scrape together enough spare change to lock Justin down for another season (at least). The stats show, as you point out, Jeff, that Justin had the best season of any ex-ChampCar driver not named "Oriol", and he tore up relatively little equipment. Sure, there were some brain-fadey moments like at Mid-Ohio, but show me somebody who didn't have one or two of those last year (or six, in Danica's case). Maybe Will's right, though, and there'll be a decision next week after Sebastien finds out whether or not he keeps his Toro Rosso seat?

  7. Sean Wrona // November 14, 2008 12:23 PM  

    The biggest problem with this series now is that drivers are getting rides due to marketability rather than talent. Marco, Danica, Mutoh, Foyt, Carpenter, and Stanton Barrett (an eighth-tier NASCAR driver...I mean if it was Gordon (either one), Stewart, Kyle Busch, or Johnson I could see it...) now have full-time rides, while Tracy, Doornbos, Wilson, Hunter-Reay, Manning (on the ovals), Scheckter, Wilson, Power, and Servia are sitting on the sidelines. (Really I don't think Rahal is MUCH better than Marco or Danica, and I don't see why McDonald's wouldn't have been satisfied by Wilson last year). Tracy I can understand because he's demanding money and only three teams really have it and they're all lined up except maybe for Helio (although I can't understand half of AGR's drivers...Marco okay because of nepotism). But I guess it has to be that way since there are no sponsors to be found (I'd think a lot of Cup sponsors might see appeal in IRL since it's much cheaper, though...) Can Texaco really not afford to (say) come back to Newman-Haas to sponsor the other car? Wouldn't that be less than they were paying to sponsor half the #42 Cup car? That would have been $10,000,000 and I doubt Newman-Haas spends that...

    I hope Tony George fires Carpenter and Foyt and puts Servia and Power in the Vision cars because of how he basically put KV out of business by not going to Surfer's. That would help. Then Texaco back to Newman-Haas for Wilson, and um...Tracy in for Helio for one last hurrah (yeah, right given 1997 and 2002). Well, one can dream...

  8. Anonymous // November 14, 2008 2:49 PM  

    "The biggest problem with this series now is that drivers are getting rides due to marketability rather than talent. Marco, Danica, Mutoh, Foyt, Carpenter, and Stanton Barrett (an eighth-tier NASCAR driver..."

    This is the bullsh*t that always makes me think that American open wheel fans became retarded from a 12-year-long divorce. Do you seriously think Will Power would ever step into a Greg Beck car? If you do, I have a bridge in the middle of the Atlantic to sell you.

  9. sean // November 14, 2008 3:37 PM  

    No, I don't think Power would have taken that ride, but there must be somebody happy enough to get a ride, even a bad one like Beck, that would be infinitely better than Barrett, who has minimal OW experience. Knowing that the truly elite drivers wouldn't settle for something that bad (although Junqueira is at Coyne, so who knows) why not hire some old, washed-up IRL guy like Alex Barron or Greg Ray or Buddy Lazier? Sure, they're outmatched compared to this field, but at least they're open-wheel drivers and would be reliably consistent. Barrett will be the next Marty Roth.

    I was complaining more about the drivers at AGR and Vision, though, while all these others are unemployed.

  10. Anonymous // November 14, 2008 4:23 PM  

    Racing takes money Sean. Stanton Barrett provided some of his own money that he used to field his Nationwide team to help field his Indycar. If you think some driver is worth a ride, get out your wallet and write him a check. It's what a lot of people did for Sarah Fisher at Indianapolis.

    That's another part of the "talent" argument I've never understood. How many Justin Wilson fans are there? And if there are none, why are there none? Why isn't he trying to improve himself so that he can get a fanbase and that fanbase will buy whatever product is on his sidepod? CART from 1996-2002 clearly was better in the driver talent than the IRL, it still failed. It's not enough to have talented drivers, you have to have talented drivers that people have a vested interest in and want to watch and gets them to turn on their TV and puts them in the grandstands. That's why Marco and Danica are in the series and Robert Doornbos is not.

    When I went to Richmond, Danica was #1 in cheers from the fans in the stands, Marco was #4 or #5, and Justin Wilson got as many cheers as Marty Roth.

  11. Dale Nixon // November 14, 2008 6:13 PM  

    Regarding your question, Mike Lanigan (the L of N/H/L) is Graham Rahal's manager.

    Whether that includes Lanigan yelling at the Cracker for balling up cars on the ovals is subject to your own interpretation; although I must say that the idea of Justin "bringing sponsorship" and bumping Graham to a MiJack-flagged Rahal Letterman Racing ride buy is positively ChampCaresqure.

  12. yaumb // November 15, 2008 9:55 AM  

    @anon: " have to have talented drivers that people have a vested interest in and want to watch and gets them to turn on their TV and puts them in the grandstands."

    Hence the problem IndyCar has in trying to be anything more than a pale niche series. There are plenty of talented drivers available but very few who inspire the general public to have a vested interest to care about their fate - much less turn on the TV or buy a grandstand ticket.

    Right now, the only race drivers in America that are capable of doing that are found in the top 10 (maybe top 5) of the NASCAR Sprint Cup points system. And even they are losing their pop culture appeal now that the fad of NASCAR fandom is fading (yes, that's right, the Fading Fandom Fad).

    Furthermore, sponsorship in IndyCar has not been about fans buying stuff from names on sidepods for years now. It's been about B2B stuff at best and corporate perks in general (i.e. send your clients to watch YOUR race car compete from a luxury box). So you need drivers who can gladhand guys in suits - and there are precious few of those in IndyCar (guys like Jimmie Johnson may be bland to fans, but they are great corporate schmoozers).

    The long and short of it is that IndyCar is a buy-to-drive series for all but maybe two or three drivers and it's not going to change anytime soon.

  13. Zappatista // November 15, 2008 10:31 PM  

    You have to love Helio, you know...for being the goofy f*^* that he is, but who wouldn't want to see RHR in that seat? He could sell smokes to a....well you get the idea.

  14. Dale Nixon // November 16, 2008 6:31 AM  

    Yaumb, I disagree with your assessment of the ICS drivers in general - most, if not all, of them are pretty much at home shaking hands with guys in suits (or at the races, polo shirts with corporate logos!).

    If you've ever noticed the I500 race weekend, you see drivers whizzing back and forth from the pits to luxury boxes the whole time to make appearances and take pics with corporate guests, and the really big hitters are in the pits and garages on race morning.

    I think the problem more with ICS sponsorship is the lack of ability to activate it as the series travels from venue to of the best in recent years at doing that was Jim Beam with Dario.

    Some races (like Texas) have a huge buildup in the community and promotions happening all week, while others just happen without much fanfare. Why doesn't the ICS become proactive to races with lagging attendance (like Watkins Glen) and take it upon themselves to send show cars, drivers, etc. en masse to ALL the cities within a 2-3 hour radius, rather than keeping it "in town".